The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Report programme recently conducted an interview
with Catherine Eldridge, the director of Internews in Uzbekistan:
Richard Aedy: When did things begin to sour between you and the government?
Catherine Eldridge: Most obviously last year. After the revolution in Georgia when the government here took fright and thought the same thing could happen here as happened in Georgia, that the government would be swept from power, and they clamped down on foreign NGOs, foreign Non-governmental organisations, basically trying to control them, and in the run-up to the elections last year, which were in December, the Uzbek authorities started a series of investigations into what Internews was doing, and to the activities of Internews. And in August, they froze our bank accounts. So effectively since last August, haven’t been able to run the program because we can’t get any money.
Richard Aedy: What did they do to the TV stations and media people that you had contact with?
Catherine Eldridge: Well the authorities directly didn’t do anything, but all the independent stations received a fax from the National Association of Independent Broadcasters, which is like an umbrella body, saying that they should stop dealing with Internews. And those that didn’t then found themselves having trouble with renewing their licences, or paying their bills or things. Nothing’s ever very open here, but fairly obviously, if you don’t do what you’re told, then you have problems.
Richard Aedy: So what happens now, Catherine?
Catherine Eldridge: Well we’ve been waiting for a week for the judge to deliver his verdict and in fact we’ve given up going to the court.
Richard Aedy: It seems, from what you’re saying, that Internews is going to be closed down though, doesn’t it?
Catherine Eldridge: Well it sounds like we are, and so we’re preparing for the worst, and sorting out all our affairs, trying to work out what we should do next. But it hasn’t been a very good time lately.
Richard Aedy: No. How is this affecting the local media?
Catherine Eldridge: Well in the last year, the local media have sort of stopped working with Internews.
Richard Aedy: Have they been cowed and intimidated by the government though?
Catherine Eldridge: Yes, the whole society is cowed and intimidated by the government. The consequences of stepping out of line are really severe.